Man’s Favorite Tool

Reason has always been one of man’s greatest tools. With the long march of modernity from the Enlightenment to the 21st century logic and science has firmly established the mechanical and mathematical nature of matter and the objective world. With this knowledge the engineers have dazzled us for over a century with their mechanical and electronic wizardry, from trains and automobiles to computers and the internet.

Like any tool, however, reason and math can be used for both good or evil ends depending on the intention of its user. It could be used, for example, to produce vaccinations against deadly diseases and enhance creativity with computer software, or alternatively industrialize the workplace to maximize profits for a few, and devise more efficient ways of killing people, such as concentration camps and smart bombs. Indeed, computers are an extension of man’s reason, and can perform algorithmic tasks determined by the left hemisphere, and represent man’s latest and greatest tool, but also carry the danger of misuse. 

Staying exclusively in the left hemisphere world can lead to problems however. It is logic and reason that idealizes with its images of perfection, and while this improves things sometimes, it can also lead to dissatisfaction with the real, and purging of all that is deemed as an imperfection. In a strictly logical approach there can also be sleights of hand that draw logical, but misleading, conclusions such as post-structuralism and arguments for atheism. Furthermore, the left hemisphere’s desire to categorize with binary classifications can lead to the dismissal and stereotyping of people and things by not accommodating their inherent complexity.

The solution is to ground out our logic with the right hemisphere, which appreciates things as a whole, and can contain dualities and complexities missed by a strictly left hemisphere approach. This is avoided by many people, however, because unlike the left brain, the right cannot be wielded like a tool by the ego, and presents what it wants, when it wants, much like our senses. Indeed, patience and acceptance are needed to reap the right brain’s benefits, including acknowledging that even our own minds are not completely under our control. The mystery religions of the past and Zen Buddhism stress the importance of having such an experience that transcends  reason and leads to wisdom and a better appreciation of reality.